BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The Settlement Issue

It didn’t have to come to this, did it?
Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot published a piece today on the newspaper’s web site YNetnews.com entitled, “It’s not the settlements, stupid.”  The article was subtitled, “Obama wanted Netanyahu’s help with Arab world, but Bibi didn’t deliver.”  Of course, now it is about the settlements.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had the opportunity to set the tone and direction of diplomatic initiatives when he visited Washington in late-May.  A clear statement, like the one posted in this blog on April 11th, and again in more detail on May 5th, might have taken Israel off the settlement hot seat.  In fact, settlements might have been put into their proper perspective against a divided Palestinian Authority and the impending Iranian nuclear threat.
There were just two problems. The first comes from Israel’s traditional foreign policy, which has two themes: look what they did to us, and look what they want to do to us!  As has also been pointed out in past blogs, most of the world does not care what happened to the Jewish People sixty years ago; and most of the world is contending with what is happening to them.  Israel needs a little more nuance.
The second problem is that Mr. Netanyahu believes his coalition to be extremely fragile.  So much so, in fact, that it could not possibly contend with the “Third Rail” of Israeli politics: settlements.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of “Third Rails” in Israeli politics.  However, the Prime Minister knew this long before he took the oath of office for the second time.

Changing of the Guard
As Barnea pointed out, “President Obama made it clear from his first week in office that he is determined to turn a new leaf vis-à-vis the Muslim and Arab world.”  He needs breathing room to re-deploy American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He needs to start paying greater attention to Pakistan. Although the Pakistani army is in the process of re-taking the Swat Valley from Taliban forces, President Obama needs to start thinking about the next time the Taliban advances on the Pakistani capital, and the next time.  The Taliban isn’t easily uprooted.
Barnea again, “Obama is not adopting this initiative in order to serve an Israeli interest, yet it can have significant benefits for Israel too, particularly on the Iranian question.”  As close as American-Israeli relations have been, relationships change.  President Obama understands that the current status quo is untenable in the long-run.  What he does not seem to understand, or is unwilling to admit publicly, is that in the long-run a Palestinian state will not usher in an era of peace in the Middle East.
In its current forms, there are two Palestinian states.  There is the Islamic theocracy that has established itself in the Gaza Strip.  There is the pseudo-authoritarian kleptocracy that has a crumbling grip on power in the West Bank.  Neither of the two is democratic – although each is more than happy to use a fig leaf of democracy to hide its real intentions.  Neither is willing to take a secular approach to politics and Render unto Ceaser those things that are Ceasar’s.  As such, the pluralism that is a hallmark of Western Civilization is absent.  Neither the Gaza Strip nor the West Bank, separately or combined, are capable of establishing a modern economy.  If the Palestinians do establish a state, it will be a permanent ward of various UN agencies.

Now it is the settlements
Barnea points out, that President Obama expected, “to get something from Netanyahu on the Palestinian front that it can hold on to.  Not a withdrawal or renunciation of rights, but rather, a diplomatic model or a vision.  Yet Netanyahu arrived empty-handed and created a vacuum, into which the settlement issue slid in full force.”  Pundits attribute this to the fact that Netanyahu’s coalition is hopelessly complicated and bound to fall within a year.  Not necessarily so.
Labor, with 13 seats, was willing to consider a two-state solution when it was part of the previous government.  Agudat Israel (or whatever they’re calling themselves this week), with 6 seats, is more than happy to give way on settlements in return for continued exemptions from military service and higher government subsidies.  Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, with 16 seats, is willing to bargain on settlements; throw in a ham sandwich and a blanket pardon and they’ll say “What settlements?”  That’s 35 seats to add to Likud’s 26. that equals 61, a majority.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have swallowed hook, line and sinker the propaganda campaign that was unleashed against him during the election campaign.  A strong statement in favor of a two-state solution, followed by a concerted effort to re-establish the Road Map would have derailed press, the Left, the Palestinians and given President Obama the maneuvering room he wants and needs.  When he speaks in Cairo on June 4th, Mr. Netanyahu will have another chance.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment